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Power Earth News

Europe To Import Sahara Solar Power Within 5 Years 450

An anonymous reader writes "If just 1% of the Sahara Desert were covered in concentrating solar panels it would create enough energy to power the entire world. That's a powerful number, and the European Union has decided to jump on its proximity to the Sahara in order to reap some benefits from the untapped solar energy beaming down on Northern Africa. Yesterday, European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger announced that Europe will start importing solar energy from the Sahara within the next five years. It is estimated that the initiative will cost €400 billion ($495 billion). It's part of an EU goal to derive 20% of its power from renewable sources by 2020. From the article: 'The EU is backing the construction of new electricity cables, known as inter-connectors, under the Mediterranean Sea to carry this renewable energy from North Africa to Europe. Some environmental groups have warned these cables could be used instead to import non-renewable electricity from coal- and gas-fired power stations in north Africa.' To this the energy minister replied, essentially, 'Good question, we'll get back to you on that.'"
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Europe To Import Sahara Solar Power Within 5 Years

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  • Green?? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by William Robinson ( 875390 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @02:34AM (#32650020)

    That's good news. As long as we are harnessing renewable energy, it is welcome.

    I would be more happy, if some way the dessert is made green part by part, while we are in there. Just a wishful thinking.

  • Rubbish (Score:1, Interesting)

    by smallfries ( 601545 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @02:40AM (#32650044) Homepage

    If just 1% of the Sahara Desert were covered in concentrating solar panels it would create enough energy to power the entire world. That's a powerful number...

    That completely misrepresents the problem. If you cover 100% of the Sahara Desert with solar panels it still won't provide all of the power that the world needs, because some of that power is needed during night in that timezone.

  • Small minds... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by imsabbel ( 611519 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @02:48AM (#32650074)

    If you have power to spare, even moderately efficient energy storage solutions become viable.

    A water->hydrogen->water cycle may be less than 50% efficient, but then just take 2%.

    Same for solar thermal storage in molten salt solutions.

  • Why outsource? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by NicknamesAreStupid ( 1040118 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @02:55AM (#32650112)
    You could cover a similar area in Spain and avoid some of the transmission loss. Spain could certainly use the business.
  • by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @03:01AM (#32650136) Homepage Journal

    ...suddenly reflected a hell of a lot less heat back into the atmosphere, you're going to alter the climate drastically -- which may well reduce the amount of energy you have to tap, as it's likely to cause a regional cooling, which may result in greater cloud formation. I'd want to see the climatologists study the proposal. More to the point, is there an advantage in using solar panels over having the sunlight heat water (which is vastly more efficient) and then use the steam to generate electricity?

  • Re:Yay... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by alfredos ( 1694270 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @03:16AM (#32650194)
    I completely agree. Spain is investing quite a bit in Morocco lately, for it is very close geographically and the costs are quite low. Not as low as in China but again, it's easier to work with people who at least uses the same alphabet as you do. In Morocco they speak French but many people speak Spanish too. It seems that we will finally have the kind of mutually beneficial relationship with them as other countries have managed to have with their former colonies. We are only a century behind or so.
  • by bradley13 ( 1118935 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @03:26AM (#32650224) Homepage

    So this power will have to travel through such stable, well-governed countries as Algeria and Libya. I am certain that people like Gaddafi would never abuse the power this will give him...

    It actually is a really good idea, from the point of view of power generation. But the political realities are a huge problem.

  • Only 1% (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @03:31AM (#32650242) Homepage

    It sounds easy ... but does the average person (or even slashdot reader) have any idea how big the Sahara Desert really is? Answer: About as big as the whole of the USA.

    Plus there's the teeny problem of building something stable on top of shifting sand dunes and transporting the stuff once you generate it (make liquid hydrogen and ship it?)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @03:38AM (#32650266)

    The Sahara is already seeing a massive climatic change. The rainfall has increased substantially due to global warming, and is continuing to do so. This might not actually work as well as planned. On the other hand, there will be a massive social benefit if north Africa, particularly the Sahel, become more green. Don't remember exactly when, but National Geographic had a very readable article on that about a year ago.

    And, given the true efficiency of solar cells, it's not going to cool a whole lot. The huge change will likely be in the soil shaded by the cells retaining more water, which will allow more vegitation, reversing the desertification.

  • Sand Storms (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dreadlord76 ( 562584 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:06AM (#32650398)
    A single Volcano in Iceland shuts down air travel in Europe for days, so far....

    Wait until what a common sandstorm will do. Europe blacked out for days until the window cleaners can get onsite...
  • by Gadget_Guy ( 627405 ) * on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:25AM (#32650472)

    And how did you conclude that the environmentalists are against it just because they asked how you ensure that the energy does actually come from renewable resources. Did you read a call to "ban the cables" anywhere? No.

    The Energy Commissioner said that it was a good question, and he is right. You don't just lay down a cable and just hope that the power sent through it is renewable. You need to put procedures in place to guarantee it, otherwise you have just wasted your money.

  • Re:Only 1% (Score:4, Interesting)

    by vtcodger ( 957785 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:34AM (#32650522)

    Tain't all sand. A lot of it is rock. And the normal way to move electricity is with transmission lines. Solved that problem about 8 decades ago.

    What does give pause is that the Southwestern deserts of the US are about as well situated to deliver solar power as the Northern Sahara is. And it can be gotten out -- at least to Coastal California -- without crossing any really difficult barriers like the Mediterranean. At least one of everything solar has been built out around Barstow. But as far as I can tell very little of that generation capacity is actually in daily use.

    The other problem is that hydro is the only renewable that can be used to trim baseline load and can be brought on line quickly when the wind stops blowing in Europe and/or starts blowing dust in North Africa. It's far from clear to me that Europe has really thought through all the problems associated with a large amount of solar/wind power generation and the difficulties of building reliable power distribution systems dependant on renewables.

    I'm not against it, and I wish them luck. But Saharan solar may not be as easy as it looks.

  • Re:Only 1% (Score:3, Interesting)

    by captainpanic ( 1173915 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @04:47AM (#32650562)

    We've managed to cover well over 1% of Europe in buildings and asphalt... How difficult can it be to cover a desert with a micrometer thin layer of silicon (solar cells) or glass (mirrors)? Both use sand as the main raw material.

    Also, the Sahara is mostly rocky, not sand dunes. If the Americans can build skyscrapers in the Nevada desert, then we can place lightweight thin semiconductors or mirrors on a similar surface with much less effort.

    And no, we're just gonna transport electrons, not liquid hydrogen. Firstly because the conversion to hydrogen, and then back to electricity is a far bigger loss than the resistance in thousands of kilometers of cable. Secondly, we already have cables of nearly a thousand kilometers in the North Sea - those only lose 1% of the energy squeezed through because of resistance.

    -- I'm surprised nobody whines about the energy storage. Hint: hydropower in Pyrenees and Alps already stores French Nuclear electricity at Gigawatt scale.

  • by chess ( 40930 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @05:07AM (#32650656)

    Europe buys oil from Libya since ages.
    No problem there.

    You really need to think big.

    It's a bonus that Morocco and Algeria are in this project.
    These Countries need a decent source of income.

    And if East Sahara is wired up, there will be no stopping wiring up Egypt, Jordan
    Mauretania, Niger, Chad.

    And why don't the Saudis add themselves to that grid?
    The Chinese could tap into Taklamakan,
    the US surely has some spare desert to make useful.

  • by iainl ( 136759 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @05:13AM (#32650684)

    The US has tonnes of space in sunny deserts to build Solar stations. The problem is that nobody in the US wants to pay to run the power cables from these areas to population centres.

  • Re:Yay... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nutria ( 679911 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @06:42AM (#32651082)

    Africa is a continent and the Middle East isn't part of it.

    No shit.

    moslim only region you speak of

    What magic is it that morphed mostly-Muslim into moslim only?

    Or are you just stupid?

    but calling Africa mostly muslim is pretty far fetched.

    Is it?

    According to Wikipedia [], North Africa is 89% Muslim, West Africa is 55% Muslim and East Africa is almost 30% Muslim.

    Ok, that's "only" 47% Muslim, which isn't a majority. But it's close, and no one in their right mind could argue that the continent is anything but politically unstable.

  • Re:Yay... (Score:0, Interesting)

    by kyrio ( 1091003 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @09:58AM (#32652534) Homepage

    Most Europeans learn multiple languages over their native language and English.

  • by Mr Z ( 6791 ) on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @11:29AM (#32653846) Homepage Journal

    I never meant to imply that solar was free. But, once solar capacity is built out and the transmission lines are in place, solar has quite a lot of potential to be cheaper than fossil fuels, particularly if fossil fuels are made artificially more expensive through carbon taxes. I don't have to mine or drill for solar power. I don't have ships, train cars and semis carting solar power all over the country. So, as solar capacity comes online, the overall cost of energy may drop, not because solar doesn't cost anything, but that it costs less than the alternatives.

  • Re:Why outsource? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 22, 2010 @01:40PM (#32655552)

    Spain found out, the hard way, that "green jobs" destroy 2.2 jobs for every green job created.

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"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas